The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Tapas Restaurants

_MG_0032sm.jpg
Photo by Troy Fields
Pull up a seat at our No. 2 pick, 1252 Tapas.
Although etymologists agree that the word "tapas" comes from the Spanish word tapar, which means "to cover," that's where agreement on the origin of the Spanish snack-stravaganza ends.

Seminal cookbook The Joy of Cooking claims that "tapas" originally referred to slices of bread or meat used to cover glasses of sherry served in Andalusian taverns. The covers -- especially the salty meat -- served the dual purpose of keeping flies out of the sherry and encouraging patrons' thirst. My handy Food Lover's Companion backs up this theory. Although it's the most popular theory currently in play, there's more to the history of tapas than just sherry.

Places serving tapas-style dishes predate restaurants, and were once one of the only places people could get food outside of their own homes prior to the 18th century. "France was the birthplace of what we now call the restaurant," write Jean-Louis Flandrin and Massimo Montanari in Food: a Culinary History. "With the exception of inns, which were primarily for travelers, and street kitchens...where in Europe at that time could one purchase a meal outside the home? Essentially in places where alcoholic beverages were sold, places equipped to serve simple, inexpensive dishes either cooked on the premises or ordered from a nearby inn or food shop, along with wine, beer, and spirits, which constituted the bulk of their business."

Taverns such as these, Flandrin and Montanari note, "existed not only in France but also in other countries. In Germany, Austria, and Alsace, Brauereien and Weinstuben served delicatessen, sauerkraut, and cheese, for example; in Spain bodegas served tapas."

In keeping with the tavern tradition, a good tapas restaurant should ideally feature an excellent selection of beverages -- especially wine -- and a cozy, relaxing atmosphere. Tapas restaurants aren't fancy; they're familiar. And these days, tapas dishes should be appropriately sized for sharing with friends. The days of a meal fitting on top of your glass are long over.

10. Vinoteca Poscol / Giacomo's Cibo e Vino

As with a few other entries on this list, neither Vinoteca Poscol nor Giacomo's are traditional tapas restaurants. They do, however, offer excellent Mediterranean food -- Italian, in this case -- in tapas-sized portions. Vinoteca Poscol's portions get even smaller during happy hour, when elegant two- or three-bite sandwiches are served with wine at the bar. Both feature terrific wine lists, and Giacomo's sports a patio that's relaxing by day and romantic by night.

44759.28.jpg
Photo by Daniel Kramer
Masitas de puerco at El Meson, the Cuban version of carnitas.
9. El Meson

The first of two Rice Village tapas restaurants on our list, El Meson offers both traditional Spanish tapas and paellas alongside Cuban dishes like ropa vieja and picadillo a la criolla. With its dark wood and booths lining the walls, the spacious restaurant -- run by Peter Garcia, who inherited the family restaurant after his father passed away in 1992 -- has the feel of a neighborhood taverna. The extensive wine list includes choices from the New World as well as the Old, all of which pair nicely with the equally extensive list of Spanish cheeses.

8. Mi Luna

Eighty selections of hot and cold tapas are served family-style at this Rice Village stronghold; order according to the number in your group. Mi Luna favorites include shrimp in lemon-garlic olive oil, manchego-stuffed chicken breast and pork tenderloin in wild mushroom-thyme-sherry sauce. A few entrées are there for those who never learned to share, but a better alternative to tapas would be to sample from the extensive paella menu.

Location Info

Vinoteca Poscol

1609 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Giacomo's Cibo e Vino

3215 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

El Meson

2425 University Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Mi Luna

2441 University Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Merche

21208 Northwest, Cypress, TX

Category: Restaurant

Rioja

11920 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Andalucia Tapas Restaurant

1201 San Jacinto St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Piqueo Restaurante & Bar

13215 Grant Road, Cypress, TX

Category: Restaurant

Oporto Cafe

3833 Richmond, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

1252 Tapas - CLOSED

1101 Uptown Park Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

1252 Tapas - CLOSED

110 Vintage Park Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

1252 Tapas

9595 Six Pines Drive, Spring, TX

Category: Restaurant

Majorca

207 W. Gray, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

My Voice Nation Help
10 comments
Raven
Raven

Aren't Spain and Italy both on the Mediterranean? And Lebanon, with its amazing mezza dishes? I almost feel like anything served in small quantities could be called tapas? (and I might be called pedantic for mentioning this...)

1252TapasBar
1252TapasBar

Katharine, we are so happy to be included in your list of Top 10 Tapas Restaurant in Houston! Thank you for the great mention. See you soon for tapas & 'tinis!

H_e_x
H_e_x

For the life of me I can never understand why the apartments near Rioja are considered rough. The actual roads, sure, rough, but that's about it.

Tapastapastapas
Tapastapastapas

I love rioja.  My wife and I just ate there last weekend.  The baby lamb chops are ridic and the service is impeccable.  

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editortopcommenter

@H_e_x My ex-husband lived in the apartments directly next door to Rioja for a year before we were married. It was sort of a modern day slum. The apartments were falling apart. Break-ins (both of cars and homes) were rampant. I still have no idea why he chose to live there, other than the [appropriately] low rent. This was about seven years ago, and I can't imagine that it's improved much since then.

Schnabel
Schnabel

@Tapastapastapas  I like Luis' suckling pig cooked in the China Box...I forget the name in Spanish, but worth visiting for on the weekends.

Schnabel
Schnabel

@kshilcutt @H_e_x  I think that a large number of the Katrina evacuees were settled into that area, including the apartments nearby at Kirkwood/Briar Forest. That could explain it.

mag1124
mag1124

its called a caja china and I have only read about it but have wanted to try it because it sounds delish.  Please tell me - where is this?

mag1124
mag1124

no, lol - i was translating china box and inquiring where it is being served because I must try that too!

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

@mag1124 did you say that Rioja does "Caja China?" Must try this.

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...